WHO-OHCHR'S New Guidelines to Strengthen Legislation Targeting Mental Health

Together with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), the World Health Organization (WHO) is releasing a new guidance titled "Mental Health, Human Rights, and Legislation: Guidance and Practice" to assist nations in rewriting their laws to stop violations of human rights and broaden access to high-quality mental health care.

October 10, known as World Mental Health Day, is a day to discuss mental health and demonstrate to everyone how important it is. It's also a day to encourage individuals to seek assistance no matter what they're going through.

However, when folks want to seek treatment, oftentimes, they are met with less-than-desirable outcomes. The prevalence of human rights violations and coercive methods in mental health treatment is still too high. Many mental health services worldwide involve forced hospitalization and treatment, unsanitary living conditions, and physical, psychological, and emotional abuse.

Since the 2006 adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, many nations have attempted to reform their laws, policies, and services; however, far too few have done so on the scale necessary to put an end to abuses and advance human rights in the field of mental health care.

Mental health is an integral and essential component of the right to health.

- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

This new guidance will assist nations in making the necessary adjustments to provide high-quality mental health care that promotes recovery and upholds an individual's dignity, enabling those who suffer from mental health issues and psychosocial disabilities to live entire and active lives in their communities, adds Ghebreyesus.

According to Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, their goal must be to reform mental health services so that they are receptive to the needs and dignity of the person.

This transformation must occur not just in terms of their scope but also in terms of their underlying ideals. This document provides instructions on how a rights-based strategy may assist the change required in mental health systems.

Encouraging the use of more efficient community-based mental health services

Psychiatric institutions get the majority of reported government spending on mental health, with 43% in high-income countries. However, research indicates that compared to institutional forms of mental health care, community-based care services are more easily accessible, affordable, and productive.

The guideline outlines what must be done to hasten deinstitutionalization and establish a rights-based community approach to mental health treatment. Adopting laws to gradually replace mental health facilities with inclusive community support networks and commonplace services, such as income support, housing help, and peer support networks, is part of this.

Eliminating coercive measures

To respect the right to make decisions about one's health care and treatment options, coercive methods in mental health must be eliminated, such as forced therapy, forced detention, and isolation.

Furthermore, research shows how coercive behaviors harm people's physical and mental health, frequently worsening their preexisting conditions and separating them from their support networks.

The advice suggests legal regulations to abolish coercion in mental health services and make free and informed consent the cornerstone of all mental health-related interventions.

Additionally, it offers recommendations for how more challenging instances might be resolved through laws and policies without resorting to coercive measures.

The new guidance is directed at all legislators and policy-makers involved in drafting, amending, and implementing legislation impacting mental health, such as laws addressing poverty, inequality, and discrimination, recognizing that mental health is not solely the responsibility of the healthcare sector.

The updated guideline also includes a checklist that nations may use to determine whether their domestic laws protecting mental health adhere to their commitments under international human rights law.

The advice also emphasizes the value of public education, awareness of rights-based problems, and the consultation of people with lived experience and their representative organizations as an essential component of this process.

Although the guidance suggests principles and provisions that can be reflected in national legislation, nations may modify and customize these to their unique circumstances without compromising human rights standards.

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